Bucket List: Holden Torana SS A9X

I WAS a teenager the first time I went to the Bathurst 1000 back in the 1970s and it blew my mind. It made me a lifelong touring car fanatic.

By the end of that decade, this was the car to have at Bathurst: the Holden Torana A9X. My family also owned LH and LX Toranas, although nothing as exotic as this, so that was another reason I always fancied the A9X.

Boil it all down and I just love the fact that here’s an Aussie-designed, developed and manufactured muscle car with a good chassis (Radial Tuned Suspension, of course!), brakes that were outstanding for the era, and a 5.0-litre V8 engine, all wrapped up
in a package about the same size as a current-day Holden Cruze.

While I’ve always lusted after the A9X, I’ve never even got close to driving one, at least until today. This particular example is one of about a dozen Holdens owned by Melbourne Torana nut Mick Cameron, who is bravely handing over the keys.

It’s a very similar green to the Newton family’s LX sedan, so instantly there’s a connection. It looks a little careworn, certainly not in concours condition, but that’s a good thing. Surely a car like this should be driven regularly, not hidden away under a dust cover.

And, bloody hell, it is an amazingly visceral car to drive. The rack-and-pinion steering mounted directly to the crossmember communicates every nook and cranny of the road, the clutch pedal requires full effort to depress, the four-speed manual is heavy and direct, and the engine is a roaring, spitting, pushrod force. Who needs overhead cams?

There are so many inputs to absorb; the driveline whines, burning fuel explodes in the exhaust on over-run, the almost-solid rear end shudders over any road corrugation. It feels ready to play.

On the Broadford circuit you can feel the racing pedigree. Once up and rolling, this car is right at home. Acceleration is only brisk by modern standards and having four ratios in an era when nine is not unheard of takes a little getting used to. But the A9X turns eagerly for the apex and then hunts for the exit, demanding throttle.

You’re holding a skinny steering wheel, looking at ‘squircle’ instruments – introduced 35 years before Fiat decided to start promoting them as a feature – and out over that fabulous rear-facing bonnet scoop.

Damn, has there ever been a better looking car? Maybe the sedan version, the SL/R 5000 A9X.

This is not a completely standard car; there are very few standard A9Xs in existence apparently. The big 15x10-inch Hotwire wheels and the burble of the extractors give it away, but I can feel the essence, and it’s glorious.

So good was the road-going A9X that Peter Robinson rated it right up there with the legendary GT-HO Phase III when Wheels finally got its hands on a test car in early 1978.

Why “finally”? Well, the A9X was a racing homologation special, slipped quietly onto the market in August 1977 with only about 400 built. We were still in the shadow of the Supercar scare of the early-70s, so Holden didn’t want to draw attention to the car, and the company also wanted to focus on the launch of the HZ Kingswood/Premier around the same time.

Thirty-five years on, I’m in no doubt the A9X has become the star. And there’s no doubt plenty of people agree with me, as SS hatchbacks now change hands for more than $200,000. If I had that sort of money, I’d buy one tomorrow.

Did you know?

  • Road-going A9X came with a standard 5.0-litre V8, but the hotter L34 engine went into racing cars
  • Larger 10-bolt Salisbury diff and rear disc brakes were fitted to A9X, with the option of a Borg Warner Super T10 four-speed
  • The A9X’s crowning glory was Peter Brock’s 1979 Bathurst 1000 win; by six laps, with a lap record on the last lap

Living the dream

MICK Cameron developed a passion for V8 Toranas watching Bathurst on TV in the 1970s in the orphanage where he was raised. Now he owns nearly a dozen of them, including the SS A9X you see here.

Only a couple of years ago he met his biological mother and discovered that Harry Firth, the legendary multiple Bathurst winner who formed the Holden Dealer Team and developed the A9X and L34, was his great uncle.

“I have been obsessed with Toranas and I’ve been obsessed with the whole Harry Firth history, and found out only about three years ago that he was my uncle,” Mick laughs.

“I grew up with my love of the L34 and A9X Toranas, but when I was younger I couldn’t afford them and I had to start with that XU-1 stuff. When I opened the bonnet I could only count six spark plug leads, so I couldn’t quite see the point.”

Sadly, Mick developed retinitis pigmentosa in 2002 and is now legally blind. He can’t drive, so wife Anna does it for him. She races the Toranas occasionally.

Mick still maintains his cars and his son’s karts for racing. He loves his wife, his life, his kids and, without doubt, his V8 Toranas.

Model: 1977 Holden Torana SS A9X
Engine: 5044cc V8 (90°), ohv, 16v
Max power: 186kW @ 5000rpm
Max torque: 434Nm @ 3400rpm
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1242kg
0-100km/h: 8.0sec (est)
Economy: 17.2L/100km
Price when new: $10,751

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